Monday, December 13, 2010


Let’s start with an important fact:  The body of your camera is just a dark box which allows you to control the amount of light/image that comes in through the lens.  Some can be very hi-tech and full of features but, at the end of the day, they are no more than a dark box.
The quality of that light/image, coming in, is entirely dependent on the quality of the lens that you have.

Poor lens = poor quality of light/image.

Unfortunately good lenses are expensive.  So purchasing the right lens is not only important but it could also keep your bank manager happy!

I won’t be explaining or recommending any lens by make or model.  We’re talking about the different kinds of lenses on offer, so the make and model of the camera is irrelevant.

There is a set category of lenses and every lens fits into one of these.  The categories describe what kind of lens it is.  These categories are:-

Wide Angle

Wide Angle
Wide Angle lenses have a very wide field of view.  When you look through the viewfinder on your camera, you will see that this lens encompasses more of what you see.  I won’t go into how they do this but just imagine a chrome ball and how the reflection on it shows most of the environment.  The reflection bulges forward in the centre and distorts away towards the edges.  This is the same principle with Wide Angle lenses.

Normal lenses are best described as lenses that best reproduce what looks natural.  They best translate what you see through your eyes.

This one is really difficult to explain simply but I’ll try my best.  Telephoto does not refer to the size of the lens, in fact it suggests the complete opposite.  Even though you can get large telephoto lenses, the actual focal length of these is even larger.  A 400mm Telephoto lens is much smaller than a Standard 400mm lens.  You can immediately see the advantage of not having to carry around a huge lens.  These lenses are great for taking shots of things far away, sports, landscapes etc.  One of the obvious visual results of using Telephoto lenses is that images look flatter.  Objects further away and closer to you look like they’re on the same plane.  You can also achieve a very shallow depth of field.  This is an effect that most landscape and wildlife photographers like. 

For most people these are the most popular types of lenses.  Look at these like a convenient range of many different lenses in one.  For example a 24-120mm goes from a very wide angle of 24mm all the way up to 120mm telephoto.  So there is no changing of lenses, no heavy bags, no huge costs.  You can see why these lenses are so popular.

Macro lenses are used to shoot objects very close to the camera.  They are great for getting shots of very small objects or just allowing you to focus on an object where normal lenses can’t.  Although you can use these lenses normally at whatever distance the lens is, it’s only really sharp at it’s macro level.  For example, if you use a 105mm macro as a telephoto lens then it’s not going to give you the same sharpness as a 105mm telephoto lens.  It’s true power and clarity is at the macro level.  Simply put, just use it for close up objects and use other lenses for everything else.

So now that we understand the different types of lenses, what lenses do I recommend for a beginner.  Well this is a very difficult area for advice but I address this with the following consideration.  If you are absolutely new to photography and would like to know what lenses would help you get started on the road to great photography.  Then I recommend the following 2 lenses.  Remember earlier, I said that lenses are expensive, so I’m taking that into consideration and recommend only the highest quality items, however, use these as a guide and find the right lens for your budget, around or close to the ones I recommend.

The first lens I recommend is:-
50mm f/1.4:  This is a Normal lens and also known as a Prime Lens.  Prime lens means that it has just one focal length and therefore is always going to be sharper and more powerful than zooms.

Regardless of who you are and what you are going to be shooting, this is a MUST have lens.  You start with this lens and then move onto others.  I have used this lens more than any other lens in my entire career.  It’s small and discrete and it goes down to f/1.4, so you can use it even when the light is very low, e.g. night time and indoor shoots.  You can capture Portraits, Crowds, Landscapes, holiday snaps etc.  It covers everything because it best replicates what you see through your eyes. 
If this is too pricey a lens for you then you may want to consider purchasing a 50mm f/1.8.  It’s half the price, however, it’s half the price for good reason!

There is another reason why I recommend this lens above any other.  Since it’s a Prime lens and closely replicates what you see with your eyes, It will force you to make framing decisions naturally.  Not as easy as it sounds, but with practice you’ll be able to master it!

Note: if you have an entry level DSLR, then you need to purchase a 35mm to make up for the crop factor.  Remember we discussed this in the post “What Camera Should I Buy?”

The Second lens I recommend is:-
24-70mm f/2.8:  This lens goes from a very wide 24mm to a close up of 70mm.

If you are beginner and want to just buy one lens that’s an all rounder then I highly recommend a small range zoom like the one above.  Small range means that the distance between the wide and the zoom is not too great.  Larger zooms means larger lenses.  The scale of a lens does not dictate the quality of a lens.  The only time you will need a large zoom is if you’re thinking of doing some nature or sports photography.
Get a small zoom and it will help you to frame a picture without having to move a few steps forward or backward.

Just a note about Zoom Lenses.  If you need to take a photo of something far away, then move closer to it.  The number of times that you will need an extreme zoom is going to be very rare, unless you happen to do a lot of nature and sport photography.  Also after a certain zoom, you’re going to need a tripod.  That’s because every tiny movement of your camera is magnified by the amount of zoom.

You know I could go into a lot more information about lenses, but I’m going to leave it at the two recommendations that I gave you.  Like I mentioned earlier, lenses are expensive, so you need to maximise on what you have, so do your research online if you’re not happy with the advice I have given.  There is a wealth of information out there.  Or if you are looking to purchase a particular lens, then drop me a message and I’ll try and help you as much as I can with regards to your choices.

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